The world's largest archipelago, stretching for more than 5,000 km. across the equator and separating the Pacific Ocean from that of the Indian, contains so many islands no one has been able to count them all. Estimations suggest somewhere around 17,500 of which two thirds are uninhabited. Suffice to say, there are more than can possibly be visited within a two-week vacation. The better-known islands like Java, Sumatra, Irian Jaya, Borneo (Kalimantan) and Sulawesi conjure up images of a bygone era when tall sailing ships plied the waters in search of spice, silk, and slaves. A time, when native islanders had no concept of a unified Indonesian territory. A time, when the only threat to freedom was European colonials attempting to settle these far flung islands in the sun. Now, from the lofty mountains and primitive cultures of Irian Jaya to the terraced hills, and highly developed societies of Bali and Java, Indonesia is indeed a country of contrasts-a cultural mosaic. The country's motto, "Unity in Diversity", accurately reflects these myriad cultures and people living under the umbrella of one nation with one national language. Consider that despite having one official language, some 583 languages and dialects are in use across this vast group of islands. Add to that the cultural imprint of so many differing origins and you might begin to grasp the breathe and scope of this remarkable collection of islands.
Legong dancer from Bali, Indonesia
For many years now, travellers to the region have narrowed their choice of a tropical paradise to one Indonesian island in particular, Bali. Once synonymous with a vibrant culture, beautiful beaches, and a timeless allure that drew travellers the world over, Bali has been redefined by the events October 12, 2002 when a bomb blast ripped through the tourist centre of Kuta. The image of a serene idyllic island paradise was instantly shattered. Terrorism is a global cancer that has effectively demonstrated it can-unfortunately-strike anywhere and at any time. It is important to know the Indonesian government has taken important steps to update security, and the peaceful Balinese people still warmly welcome visitors to their beautiful island paradise. Confidence is building and Bali is recovering as visitors are won over with unprecedented promotions and incentives aimed at luring them back to her shores. Bali is an island of lush jungle-covered volcanic peaks, tumbling waterfalls and crystal clear rivers that cut through deep ravines and gorges; an island of fine sandy beaches rimmed with coconut groves and comfortable resorts; of ornate temples, incense, and religious tolerance; of women in elaborate and colourful clothing, impossible loads balanced on their heads; and unabashed men sporting dress-like 'sarongs'A^...and Bali is so much more. Among Indonesia's varying peoples, the Balinese shine as a creative and theatrical culture. They are extravagant in their use of ornamentation. Profuse in the colors used for adornment. They are unrestrained in their music and dance. The people of Bali hold that all natural phenomena is embodied with a soul. Every action entails consideration of spirits, and a large part of daily life entails offerings of fruits and flowers to appease angry gods. Bali is, after all, still the beautiful island paradise that has attracted so many for so long.
Ornaments on the Candi Loro Jonggrang temple in Central Java, Indonesia
There is a fascinating history behind and the nation's capital not to mention the numerous name changes resulting thereof. It started as a small harbour town called Sunda Kelapa. That is until Fatahillah, the Sultan of neighbouring Banten, conquered and changed the name to Jayakarta, meaning City of Great Victory. When the Dutch colonized parts of the region including the island of Java, the name was changed once again to Batavia. When Japanese occupation forces left following World War II, the newly formed Republic of Indonesia renamed the capital, Jakarta. Since becoming Jakarta in 1949, the city has experienced rapid growth, evolving into a modern seaport and commercial centre with skyscrapers and multilane highways. The new-age look of glass and steel dominates the city center, while traditional homes, still constructed of wood or bamboo, make up most residential districts. The metropolitan area fans out from the heart of the city, centred on the spacious Merdeka Square, which is the site of the imposing National Monument honouring Indonesia's struggle for independence. In recent years, some of the Dutch colonial buildings have been beautifully restored. Extensive green spaces and urban renewal programs, along with improved public services, have further enhanced the image of the capital. Jakarta has expanded its facilities for visitors as well, with luxury accommodations, fine dining, exciting nightlife and modern shopping centres. If there is one thing that is certain in a city that is home to nearly nine million people, there is always something interesting afoot. For those interested in a deeper understanding of Indonesian life, art and history, consider the following monuments and museums:
Jakarta's Central Museum is reputedly one of the finest in Southeast Asia. Founded in 1788, it houses the world's most complete collection of Indonesian artefacts. Its Hindu-Javanese collection rivals that of the Leiden Museum in Holland, allegedly the finest in the world. It has one the most precious collections of Han, Tang and Ming porcelain and a complementing array of Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese export ceramics. Its numismatic collection includes rare specimens of Indonesian cloth-money.
Taman Fatahillah (Fatahillah Square) has three distinct historical institutions surrounding the cobblestone square. The first is the Jakarta Museum, which exhibits the colonial history of the city as well as relics from the pre-colonial era. The former Supreme Court building, houses the Fine Arts Gallery and the Ceramics Museum featuring an excellent Chinese and Southeast Asian ceramics collection. On the western side of the square is the Wayang Museum, filled with an assortment of puppets used in the Indonesian puppet theatre. The largest part of the collection consists of 'wayang kulit', flat leather puppets from various regions. Demonstrations of the 'shadow play', lasting two hours, are offered every Sunday morning.
You will find the Maritime Museum at the northern end of Jakarta, in the old Sunda Kelapa harbour area. Exhibits are displayed inside the old Dutch East India Company warehouses. Through scale models and photographs, the museum attempts to give the visitor a perspective of Indonesia's seafaring tradition, and the importance of the sea to the economy of present-day Indonesia. The museum models include an excellent assortment of fishing boats from Indonesia, modern steamers and the celebrated Pinisi schooners of the Bugis people of South Sulawesi, which are one of the last sea-going sailing fleets in the world.
Historic stone sculpture
The imposing 137-metre tall spire topped with a golden flame, facing the Presidential Palace in Jakarta commemorates the nation's independence from the Netherlands. The base of the monument houses a Museum of History with dioramas depicting the history of Indonesia from prehistoric times to the present day. A major portion is devoted to the national war for independence, waged from 1945 to December 1949.
Located in the southern part of Jakarta, is the Satria Mandala Museum, or Armed Forces Museum. This museum has an interesting collection of arms, including World War II vintage Japanese fighter planes, Russian and American gunnery and armoured cars. Dioramas portray the role of the Indonesian Armed Services in this country.
The Textile Museum on Jalan Sasuit Tubun in Jakarta, is a renovated 19th century mansion, housing a collection of some 600 different types of traditional Indonesian textiles, including batik to ikat and Dayak, a form of bark cloth. Woven cloth was, and often still is, closely connected with religious practice. In many regions, swaths of intricately woven material are still used to pay fines, avert illness or for other social or religious purposes. Some of the oldest Indonesian decorative designs are derived from work originally found in textiles.
Inside the Taman Mini is the Museum Indonesia, a three-storey traditional Balinese influenced edifice. The museum houses a vast collection of contemporary Indonesian arts and crafts, traditional regional costumes, puppets, musical instruments, masks, and a large variety of utensils used in daily life.